The Walt Disney Company, known for its grandiose theme parks and family-friendly entertainment, has been a staple of American culture for decades. To some, Disney remains a symbol of all that is magical and innocent. But to others, Disney has become a dangerous marketing giant that is infiltrating every aspect of our children's lives.
The Princess Problem
When Walt Disney released Snow White in 1937, the first in a long line of Disney princesses was born. A wildly successful marketing campaign was born as well. Through the decades, Disney has steadily introduced more princesses — Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine, among others. The company has also launched an aggressive marketing campaign, aimed at little girls as young as 2, that revolves around these princesses and the fairy tale lives they lead.
From princess-themed birthday parties to princess dress-up costumes to the repeated viewing of princess movies, most little girls love the Disney princesses. But parents and watchdog groups have begun to question Disney's marketing tactics, and more importantly, what this princess craze is teaching our daughters.
In her recent article Disney Princesses and the Battle For Your Daughter's Soul, Jessica Bennett explores our national princess problem in light of bestselling author Peggy Orenstein's newest book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter.
Apparently, Disney princesses aren't problematic just because of the message they send to girls (you know, the whole waiting helplessly for Prince Charming thing). The bigger problem, it seems, lies in the marketing. Bennett writes the following about Orenstein's book:
"[T]he way she sees it, there is one very big thing that separates Daisy's [Orenstein's daughter] generation from those who came before her — and it's called mass marketing. Disney alone has 26,000 Disney princess items on the market today, part of a $4 billion-a-year franchise that is the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created."
The real princess problem isn't that our girls aren't smart enough to think for themselves, or to see a movie character for the fictitious creation that she is. It's that the princesses aren't just in the movies any more. They've infiltrated just about every aspect of girlhood, from dishes to toothpaste to clothes and lunchboxes.
Disney Expands to New Market
Disney is now on a mission to bring the success of its princess franchise to another sector of the market. According to The New York Times, the company is laying the groundwork to capture a whole new group of potential customers: newborns. By partnering with Our365, a portrait company that pays hospitals in exchange for exclusive rights to take and sell baby pictures, Disney will be able to market its newest line, Disney Baby, directly to new mothers in hospital maternity wards.
Here's how it will work. A representative will visit new moms in 580 maternity hospitals across the U.S. and present them with a free Disney onesie. They will also encourage the newly postpartum and probably not thinking clearly moms to sign up to receive emails from the Disney Baby website. Disney is planning to roll out an entire line of Disney Baby products like strollers and baby food in the near future. Their goal? To get kids and families hooked on the Disney brand years before they're interested in the Disney Channel or the Disney princesses.
Good Marketing or Predatory Practices?
According to Campaign For A Commercial-Free Childhood, a national coalition dedicated to counter the harmful effects of marketing to children, Disney's new scheme is both dangerous and predatory. In a recently issued press release, CCFC director Dr. Susan Lin is quoted as saying:
"It's reprehensible for marketers to inject themselves into the relationship between a mother and her baby at birth. Those amazing first moments of a newborn's life should be one hundred percent commercial-free."
The CCFC has even started a petition asking Disney to cease its hospital marketing program immediately.
Disney chief executive Robert A. Iger, on the other hand, is proud of the new venture.
"If ever there was an opportunity for a trusted brand to enter a market and provide a better product and experience, it's this. I'm extremely excited about it."
From a business perspective, Iger is right. The newborn marketing campaign is a smart step in Disney's effort to increase its customer base and build brand loyalty from an early age. But from a parent's perspective, I'm not so sure. I've always been physically and emotionally exhausted after giving birth, and can't imagine I would be receptive to some stranger trying to manipulate me into sharing personal information so that they could pass it along to a company that has no interest in me or my child beyond the dollar signs that we represent.
When it comes to the princesses, I have the choice to rent a different movie, or purchase a non-branded t-shirt or tube of toothpaste. But if I'm lying in a hospital bed, it doesn't matter if I choose not to share my email address, I still can't avoid the imposition of a stranger coming into my room at what should be a very private time.
Sure, free onesies aren't the end of the world, but there's a bigger issue at play. When it comes to marketing, are there any lines that companies won't cross? Are there lines that they shouldn't cross? If newborns who are just hours old are no longer off limits, does that mean that everything and everybody is fair game?
And are we really okay with that?
How do you feel about Disney's newest marketing campaign? And what about the role of the hospitals in all of this? Aren't they the ones who are really selling out mothers and babies?